“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” Among the worn out phrases of caring parents, this is as classic as “Santa Claus does not give toys to children who misbehave.” As a result, many grow up with the idea that skipping breakfast is absolutely unhealthy. At the same time, studies show that in the UK only two-thirds of the adult population eat breakfast regularly, and in America – three-quarters.
It is traditionally believed that breakfast is needed so that the body is nourished after sleep, during which he did not receive food.
“The body uses a lot of energy reserves to grow and repair overnight,” explains nutritionist Sarah Elder. “Eating a balanced breakfast helps boost energy levels as well as replenish protein and calcium stores used during the night.”
But there is also controversy over whether breakfast should be at the top of the meal hierarchy. There are concerns about the sugar content of cereals and the food industry’s involvement in research on the topic – and one academic even claims that breakfast is “dangerous.”
So what’s the reality? Is breakfast important to start the day… or is it just another marketing gimmick?
The most researched aspect of breakfast (and skipping breakfast) is its association with obesity. Scientists have different theories as to why this connection exists.
In one US study that analyzed health data from 50 people over seven years, researchers found that those who had breakfast as their largest meal of the day were more likely to have a lower body mass index (BMI) than those who ate a lot for lunch or dinner. Researchers claim that breakfast helps increase satiety, reduce daily calorie intake, and improve nutritional quality, since foods traditionally eaten for breakfast are usually high in fiber and nutrients.
But as with any such study, it is not clear whether the breakfast factor itself contributed to the situation, or whether the people who skipped it were simply more likely to be overweight initially.
To find out, a study was conducted in which 52 obese women took part in a 12-week weight loss program. Everyone consumed the same number of calories throughout the day, but half ate breakfast and the other half did not.
It was found that the cause of weight loss is not breakfast, but a change in daily routine. Women who reported before the study that they usually ate breakfast lost 8,9 kg when they stopped eating breakfast; at the same time, the participants who had breakfast lost 6,2 kg. Among those who habitually skipped breakfast, those who started eating it lost 7,7 kg, while those who continued to skip breakfast lost 6 kg.
If breakfast alone is no guarantee of weight loss, why is there a link between obesity and skipping breakfast?
Alexandra Johnston, professor of appetite research at the University of Aberdeen, says the reason may simply be that breakfast skippers are less knowledgeable about nutrition and health.
“There is a lot of research on the relationship between breakfast consumption and possible health outcomes, but the reason may simply be that those who eat breakfast tend to lead healthier lives,” she says.
A 10 review of 2016 studies looking at the relationship between breakfast and weight control found that there is “limited evidence” to support or refute the belief that breakfast affects weight or food intake, and more evidence is needed before recommendations can be relied upon. on the use of breakfast to prevent obesity.
Intermittent fasting diets, which involve not eating overnight and into the next day, are gaining popularity among those who want to lose weight, maintain their weight, or improve health outcomes.
For example, one study published in 2018 found that intermittent fasting improved blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity and lowered blood pressure. Eight men with prediabetes were assigned one of two dietary regimens: either consume the entire calorie allowance between 9:00 am and 15:00 pm, or eat the same number of calories within 12 hours. According to Courtney Peterson, study author and assistant professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, participants in the first group had lower blood pressure as a result of the regimen. However, the modest size of this study means that more research is needed into the possible long-term benefits of such a regimen.
If skipping breakfast can be beneficial, does that mean breakfast can be harmful? One scientist answers yes to this question and believes that breakfast is “dangerous”: eating early in the day raises cortisol levels, which leads to the fact that the body becomes resistant to insulin over time and increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
But Fredrik Karpe, a professor of metabolic medicine at the Oxford Center for Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism, argues that this is not the case, and higher cortisol levels in the morning are just part of the human body’s natural rhythm.
What’s more, Carpe is confident that breakfast is the key to boosting your metabolism. “In order for other tissues to respond well to food intake, an initial trigger is needed, including carbohydrates that respond to insulin. That’s what breakfast is for,” Carpe says.
A 2017 control study of 18 people with diabetes and 18 people without it found that skipping breakfast disrupted circadian rhythms in both groups and led to increased post-meal blood glucose spikes. The researchers concluded that breakfast is essential for our natural clock to work properly.
Peterson says people who skip breakfast can be divided into those who skip breakfast and eat dinner at regular times—benefiting from unloading—and those who skip breakfast and eat late.
“Those who eat late have a significantly higher risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Although breakfast seems to be the most important meal of the day, so can dinner,” she says.
“At the beginning of the day, our body is at its best in controlling blood sugar levels. And when we eat dinner late, the body becomes most vulnerable, because blood sugar control is already poor. I am sure that the key to health is not to skip breakfast and not to have dinner late.”
Breakfast has been found to affect more than just weight. Skipping breakfast was associated with a 27% increased risk of cardiovascular disease and a 2% increased risk of developing type 20 diabetes.
One reason may be the nutritional value of breakfast, since we often eat grains at this meal, which are fortified with vitamins. One study on breakfast habits of 1600 young English people found that intake of fiber and micronutrients, including folate, vitamin C, iron and calcium, was better for those who ate breakfast regularly. Studies in Australia, Brazil, Canada, and the United States have shown similar results.
Breakfast has also been linked to improved brain function, including concentration and speech. A review of 54 studies found that eating breakfast can improve memory, although effects on other brain functions have not been definitively proven. However, one of the review’s researchers, Mary Beth Spitznagel, says there’s already “heavy” evidence that breakfast does improve concentration — it just needs more research.
“I noticed that among the studies that measured concentration levels, the number of studies that found a benefit was exactly the same as the number of studies that did not find it,” she says. “However, no studies have found that eating breakfast harms concentration.”
Another common belief is that what matters most is what we eat for breakfast.
According to research from the Australian National Research and Development Association, high-protein breakfasts have been found to be effective in reducing food cravings and reducing food intake at the end of the day.
While cereal remains a firm breakfast food favorite among consumers in the UK and US, recent sugar content in breakfast cereal has shown that some of it contains more than three-quarters of the recommended daily amount of free sugars per serving, and sugar is second or third in ingredient content in 7 out of 10 brands of cereal.
But some studies show that if there is sweet food, it is better – in the morning. One showed that the change in the level of the appetite hormone – leptin – in the body during the day depends on the time of consumption of sugary foods, while scientists from Tel Aviv University that hunger is best regulated in the morning. In a study of 200 obese adults, participants followed a diet for 16 weeks in which half ate dessert for breakfast and the other half did not. Those who ate dessert lost an average of 18 kg more – however, the study was unable to identify long-term effects.
54 studies have shown that while there is no consensus on what type of breakfast is healthier. The researchers concluded that the type of breakfast is not that important – it’s important to just eat something.
Although there is no convincing argument about what exactly we should eat and when, we should listen to our own bodies and eat when we are hungry.
“Breakfast is very important for people who feel hungry right after waking up,” says Johnston.
For example, studies show that people with pre-diabetes and diabetes may find that they have increased concentration after a low GI breakfast, such as cereal, which is digested more slowly and causes a smoother rise in blood sugar levels.
“Every body starts the day differently – and these individual differences, especially in regards to glucose functions, need to be explored more closely,” Spitznagel says.
Ultimately, you should not focus all your attention on one meal, but be mindful of nutrition throughout the day.
“A balanced breakfast is important, but eating regularly is more important for maintaining stable blood sugar levels throughout the day and effectively helps control weight and hunger levels,” says Elder. “Breakfast is not the only meal you need to be mindful of.”